Mr. J. G. Diefenbaker (Lake Centre):
Mr. Speaker, in rising to support the amendment moved by the leader of the opposition (Mr. Drew) may I say that the speeches which were delivered by the three hon. gentlemen who have preceded me indicate their interest in this subject. It is a continuing interest. The problem must be solved if democracy is to operate as it should.
As one looks back to the days when our constitution was being considered, it is of interest to note that the Senate originally was conceived on the basis of the legislative council of Canada, which was elective; that when the discussions took place at the time of confederation, or prior thereto, the only reason that the Senate became a nominated rather than elected chamber was that disputes arose among the members of the two conferences. These disputes arose out of the difficulties that
the United States had found and which had culminated in the civil war. The debates of confederation days indicate that the final decision to provide for a nominated Senate was in consequence of the fact that the deliberations took place during the period of restoration and reconstruction immediately after the civil war.
The hon. member for Rosetown-Biggar (Mr. Coldwell) said it was unfortunate that this matter had not been brought before the house by the government. I agree with him entirely in that. Indeed I find it difficult to understand, having regard to the numerous occasions on which reform of the Senate has been declared to be of the essence of Liberal policy, that a measure of Senate reform has not long since been introduced. At the convention of the Liberal party in 1893 one of the outstanding resolutions passed dealt with the necessity of doing away with the archaic form of the Senate and bringing it up to date in accordance with the then concept of democratic government and of parliamentary institutions.
This is the only way in which the matter can be effectively brought before parliament by the opposition. If we were to bring it in, sir, through the medium of a private member's resolution you realize what would happen to such a resolution. Certainly no one would suggest that it would be intentionally talked out but that result would be achieved without much difficulty. The end would be that no consideration would be given to this most important matter.
Last fall a constitutional session was held wherein advances were made in our democratic form of government, and in bringing our political system up to date. The first time there was a general discussion regarding constitutional matters, particularly the necessity for reform of the Senate and the abolition of appeals to the privy council, was in the session of 1875, and the matter has been discussed on a number of occasions subsequently.
On March 1, 1875, Mr. Mills moved the following resolution:
That the house go into committee of the whole to consider the following resolution:
That the present mode of constituting the Senate is inconsistent with the federal principle in our system of government, makes the Senate alike independent of the people and the crown, and is in other material respects defective, and that our constitution ought to be so amended as to confer upon each province the power of selecting its own senators and to define the mode of their selection.
That resolution was debated at considerable length. Finally the house divided on it and it was carried by a vote of 77 to 74. After It was carried Mr. Mills was reported as saying in effect:
The house had committed itself to the principle that a change was desirable in the constitution of
the Senate-there could be no doubt about that proposition. The house had affirmed that the constitution of the Senate was inconsistent with the principle of our federal government, and some change should be made which would give to each province the appointment of its senators.
I am not accepting the suggestions then made, but I am pointing out that in the debates which took place the outstanding argument advanced was that the Senate was out of date and that it did not conform to the federal system of government, because appointment to membership was decided by nomination by the government. It is of interest to know that the debate has continued over the years. In 1921 Senate reform was part of the policy of the Liberal party. Reform of the Senate was of the essence of the election in 1925. I think in large measure that policy was the consequence of the debate which took place in 1923 in the house.
A motion was offered by Mr. Jean J. Denis, the then member for Joliette, and that motion appears at page 1364 of Hansard for March 21, 1923, in these words:
That, in the opinion of this house, it is expedient that a humble address be presented to His Majesty the King praying that the British North America Act be amended so as to provide that the members of the Senate instead of being summoned by the Governor General should be elected by the people for a term of six years in special senatorial divisions, the election for one-half thereof to take place every third year or should be elected for any other period of time or by any other mode of election as may be determined by parliament.
A most interesting debate followed in which various members of the house spoke. The speech by Mr. Denis needs no repetition. He placed on record the various events which had taken place leading up to the Senate being established in its present form. Then he finally arrived at this conclusion, which I believe is of interest to all hon. members, that there is no other self-governing British dominion that has a nominative Senate. The purport of his argument is that the experience since 1867 in Canada and in other parts of the commonwealth had indicated that a Senate appointed by a government in power did not discharge its responsibilities as effectively as it would if provision had been made either for election or for election in part and nomination in part.
Finally Mr. Fielding, a man of great experience in public life and a man who gave to his public service idealism that knew no party bounds over the years when he was premier of Nova Scotia, and following that as a member of the House of Commons, stated:
The original constitution of the Senate contemplated the recognition of provincial rights. It was taken for granted that it might be a danger to minorities and that the Senate might be needed for the protection of minorities.
Then he went on to say:
I agree that the constitution of the Senate today is not satisfactory. I do not join in any condemnation of the Senate. I think even as organized today it is capable of, and does, very good work. But unfortunately the distribution of our legislative work is such that we do not get the best out of the Senate.
This was said twenty-seven years ago.
For about a month after the Senate meets the chief business is to inquire what is on for the next day. There is nothing, and "Satan finds mischief for idle hands to do." Then, towards the end of the session the Senate is rushed and is not able to do properly the work for which it is specially designed; that is to say, the work of a revising body.
Then he proceeded:
I think it is desirable and expedient that we should have a second chamber, a chamber that should act as a brake-not a block-on the House of Commons; a chamber useful in many ways. I think a second chamber is useful and necessary in these days of so-called democracy, to guard against hasty legislation.
And his final opinion was expressed in this way:
I would appoint a senator for ten years. I would make him eligible for a second term, and retire him at, say eighty.
That was his suggestion, that there be appointment for a limited period of time. Others spoke in favour of election, while still others had in mind a system similar to that in effect in the United States where in fact the Senate is elected by the people and has been, as the leader of the opposition (Mr. Drew) has said, since 1913.
Debates on this subject have taken place on other occasions. The leader of the opposition has referred to the debates in the house in 1886. In the election of 1925, when reform was in the air, the former prime minister, Mr. King, promised to reform the Senate in order to make it an effective body to carry out the legislative responsibilities that devolve upon it. The means was that as appointments were made to the Senate those appointed would sign a declaration to the effect that they would join in their own reform. All of us felt through the years that those who had been appointed to the Senate had gone through that method of selfscreening, only to find about 1946 that the system had never been carried out or had never been brought into effect.
The experience since 1939 has shown that the Senate has had little or no opportunity to carry out its major responsibilities. Only a few pieces of legislation have originated there. Indeed in some sessions so little was the Senate used that the vast experience in parliamentary life which is available in that body was restricted in large measure to its divorce legislative functions. As far as other
matters that came before it were concerned, they were too often to all intents and purposes perfunctory.
The result has been that over the years- this has accelerated in recent years-the people and even the Senators are asking what should be done in order to restore the Senate to a responsibility that it now does not discharge. I could quote various ministers of the crown who are now sitting in the seats of the mighty and who through the years have spoken of the necessity of reform. Only the other day the government leader in the other place spoke of the necessity of something being done. A recent appointee, Senator Stambaugh, made a speech in Alberta during the Easter holidays which indicated that after the few months he had been there his considered opinion was that something had to be done, that some definite consideration should be given to the necessity of reform in so far as the method of appointment and the discharge of a larger share of responsibility was concerned.
In 1925 Senate reform was mentioned in the speech from the throne. Then came 1926 and nothing more was heard about it. Reference to page 208 of Hansard of January 18, 1926, shows that Mr. Meighen spoke on that subject as follows:
I spoke some time ago of dear old friends who are missing and apparently gone forever, and amongst them none was more familiar, none more lamented than the figure of that great apparition known as Senate reform. Its death has been very recent, so perhaps we should speak of it with bated breath.
And he did. Then the late Mr. Lapointe followed and I quote from page 223 as follows:
My right hon. friend was most sarcastic when he referred to the reform of the Senate. Reform of the Senate! We have not changed our views about Senate reform from what they were last year. We said last year that the proposals of the government would be submitted to a conference of the provinces.